It was just about one year ago when I first heard the Boston-based group Frank Smith. Yes, they are a band, not just a dude named Frank Smith. In fact, there isn't anybody named Frank or Smith in the group. Go figure. In that year since the release of Red On White, the guys relocated to Austin, got signed to Juliana Hatfield's Ye Olde Records, and are back with a new album, Heavy Handed Peace And Love.
Frontman Aaron Sinclair is at the top of his game. As much as I always enjoyed The Lot Six, Drexel, and his earlier solo work as LaGuardia, Heavy Handed stands out as his most solid effort to date. The album easily switches gears from slightly twangy indie rock to full-blown country, with Sinclair's southern roots as the glue that holds it all together.
The album begins with the distant noise of dueling electric guitars, creating a fog that gently gives way to a solo harmonica and banjo on "Liar And A Thief." Their focus on atmosphere is what makes this such an interesting record, as the spaced-out guitars continually return throughout the track to add haunting textures, putting them in that interesting musical realm of Wilco. This takes us to "Throwin Rocks," one of the more straightforward tracks on the album. The electric slide guitar and rolling banjo would have easily fit on any of the Ryan Adams & The Cardinals albums.
"Home Is Where You Leave It" lets Frank Smith delve headfirst into indie rock, leaving behind all the twang and replacing it with a killer chorus jam-packed with stomping drums and vocal harmonies. While the melody is somewhat upbeat, lyrically it is just the opposite, as he sings: "Why can't you be happy with what you have / There's nothing left in an empty bed / I hate you and I want to fuck somebody else / Fuck that hurts." That one stings just a little.
One of the most interesting moments on Heavy Handed is "Ten Cent Hands," a song that perfectly encapsulates all that is Frank Smith. It almost sounds like two separate songs that were mashed into one, with fuzzed out Sonic Youth guitars that mesh with the plucking of a banjo. Is it noiserock? Is it country? Yes and yes!
Frank Smith is a fairly unclassifiable group, unless indie-honky-tonk is a genre that I've yet to see listed anywhere. Their combination of old school country and indie rock helped form a truly great album, one that fans of everything from The Shins to Golden Smog should make a point to check out.